“That’ll kill you,” I cheerfully called out to the car parking attendant at the Covid-19 Vaccination Hub as he lit up a surreptitious cigarette on the side of the road. No doubt attuned to the futility of my off the cuff remark, he ignored me and kept his stare on the argumentative pair of security guards who were at it hammer and tongs down at the security gates.
“If you don’t like the fucking job why don’t you just fuck off?” remonstrated an elderly man heatedly to his younger colleague who was no slouch when it came to returning the insults. I missed the rest of the barbed comments between them as I turned the corner and entered the inner sanctum of the Hub: a long queue of hopefuls and sorrowfuls were stretched out in front of me, all waiting our turn for what we fervently hoped would be our promise of happier days ahead.
The inner sanctum had in a previous life been the hallowed ground of the Central TV studios where the ITV gameshow, Bullseye, was produced. Mixing general knowledge questions with darts, Bullseye was fronted by its once famous compère, Jim Bowen, who used to encourage his participants with several catchphrases: “Super Smashing Great” (although he disputed he ever said that); they’d receive their “BFH: Bus Fare Home” if they gambled but lost; “Keep out of the black and in the red; nothing in this game for two in a bed” referred to how contestants would have to avoid hitting the dart board in the same place twice; and perhaps the biggest killer catch phrase of all time, particularly in these Covid-sensitised times, “Look at what you could have won!”.
There was plenty of time to think about the irony of a site of a popular TV quiz game turning into a mass Vaccination Hub where the only prizes were of the Oxford / AstroZeneca or the Pfizer variety because the queue wended its way slowly into and around and through the studios.
There was no random throwing of darts into an outsize dartboard though; just the careful and attentive work of many NHS staff and volunteers, ensuring we were all focused on one common purpose: our salvation and wishes for better days for our friends, families, communities and nations after the disasters of 2020.
Look at what we could have won. You just had to read the news on your phone or in your newspaper to catch up with the recent mortality figures. 121,000 and still counting in the UK; unimaginable numbers across the planet.
But for all the solemnity and patience of the queue, the ability of the staff to react swiftly to an ever changing situation was remarkable: one young lad with diabetes was brought through the Hub at pace. He’d been struggling but his carers were dealing with it swiftly, directly and with the minimum of drama or game show pizazz.
It was one tiny insight into the myriad of struggles that people here, across the country, across the world, have been enduring over the last year. “Look at what you could have won!” I nearly called out to the car park attendant on my way out but thought better of it. He was enjoying his cigarette in the warm early Spring afternoon air and didn’t need any more reminders of what is just around the corner.